USA Quilt History
An American Tail

USA quilt history has its roots in practical beginnings. The early settlers to North America brought with them the skill of quilting. Quilts in the early colonial period often told stories of resourceful times. Constructed mainly from linens, wools, and older recycled blankets, these quilts mirrored the settlers' struggles to survive.

As we move through the timeline of quilt history, the mid-1700s saw the artistry in quilts emerging. These bedcovers started to be seen as indicators of a woman's creativity and skill, and so  transitioning the craft from pure necessity to a form of creative expression.

During the Civil War, quilts served several purposes. Thousands of quilts were collected by the Sanitary Commission to be given to soldiers. It has been told that some quilts even conveyed secret codes for the Underground Railroad, truly demonstrating the power of this craft.

Following the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution had a significant impact on quilt making. Factory-made fabrics and sewing machines became available, making way for more individual creativity. The 'Victorian crazy quilts' with lavish fabrics and ornate stitches became popular through this period.

American Map Quilt 1886

American Map Quilt, created in Virginia, 1886 (Utah Museum of Fine Arts)

The Great Depression of the 20th century and World Wars brought about a resurgence in quilting as a cost-effective way to provide warmth. Quilts, made from fabric scraps, were symbolic of the American spirit showing resilience and resourcefulness.

I have found, as I’m sure many quilters have and still do, the process of making a quilt to be super creative, challenging and as enjoyable as the end product. Some quilts are made to tell a story, like the first quilt I made for my granddaughter that included all the things that she loved when she was 5 years old. Every quilt holds the expression of creativeness and resilience that can be admired for years to come.

Talking further about USA quilt history is Jean Burks the Senior Curator at Shelburne Museum in Vermont. The museum was founded by collector and connoisseur Electra Havemeyer Webb and is home to one of America's world renowned quilt collections. It houses 450 quilts spanning three centuries representing both functional and creative quilts.

Historically the art of the needle in making quilts involves piecing together 3 layers of fabric. A top layer, a bottom layer and a filling in between that is literally sewn together or quilted.

The quilts on display are either pieced, appliqued or embroidered. These are also the most common techniques still used by quilters today.

These quilts have been an important part of interior decoration from the 17th century on. Today when decorating our homes we are inspired by color, design, texture and history. Quilts appeal to our sense of timelessness, nostalgia and in the way they link us to our history.

Dorinda Evans talks about the traditional and contemporary USA quilt history. She shares a range of quilts and how they were made over this time. Her story is in 2 parts below.

If you are looking to make a replica of an American quilt then go to Case Study of Sergeant Fords Quilt and read how Beth mcCrystal created a replica of an 1850's quilt. This article shows the reseach, fabric selection, quilting technique and collegues feedback that was required to accomplish this task. Her finished quilt is now on display in the Howick Historical Village in Auckland, New Zealand.

Alternatively your first step is choosing the type of quilt you want to create. Traditional or modern, they both have their own charm and beauty, connecting you to the rich quilt making history.

then, gather your essentials - a good sewing machine, fabrics, batting, and a pattern. Historical quilters made the best out of what they had, and so can you!

Then start sewing! Begin with some comfortable quilt patterns, like rectangles or squares, and gradually work your way towards more intricate designs. Each stitch you make brings you closer to the heart of quilt-making.

Quilting allows you to express your creative side, just as the quilters who have gone before us. Remember, there's really no right or wrong in this journey. I wish I had taken heed of that when I started because it caused me much anguish and procrastination trying to do everything the right way rather than what would work for me at that time.

As mentioned above I have found the beauty of quilt-making lies in the process as much as in the finished product. So take a breath, enjoy every stitch, and begin telling your story with each patch you join.

Quilt-making, in essence, is a shared history and a shared art. It's about community, patience, and the expression of self. It's about adding your chapter to the American quilt history.

Carrying this understanding and connection to history in your heart can help dissolve those beginning jitters. Remember, each quilter started where you are now, with a loose bundle of threads, a heap of fabric, and a heart filled with hope.

As you weave your story into your quilt, you're not only creating a legacy piece for your grandchildren, but you’re also connecting to a broader narrative. You become a part of the endless tapestry that's the American quilt-making story.

For more information on the history of quilting in USA visit Jeananne Wright's 200-year-old quilt collection. Patchwork quilt history would not be what it is today without passionate people like quilt historian Jeananne Wright or Magdalena Wegrzyn of the Longmont Times, who make this information available to all.

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